Justice Ramadhani’s remarks “good food for thought” to our criminal justice system.

Justice Ramadhani’s remarks “good food for thought” to our criminal justice system.

According to the US Ambassador to Tanzania Mr Alfonso Lenhardt, Justice Ramadhani’s award is in recognition of his long standing distinguished service to Tanzania’s legal and judicial system as a defender of equal rights, justice and human rights.  Befittingly as a true defender of equal rights, he chose to speak on a very relevant topic when receiving this award.  

He decried the most archaic section of the criminal procedure code which demands the suspect to be arrested and sent to court within twenty- four hours.  Indeed this has occasionally been violated as he puts it, “because of the rampant impunity, law enforcers have been abusing this section of the law.”

Yes we know this and in fact technically the offender in some police stations after expiry of those 24 hours would just be released out to see the sun and then rearrested to continue with investigation before being produced to the court of law. However Justice Ramadhani is not happy with the safeguards against arbitrary arrest and custody in the police cells. He wants the introduction of provisions in the constitution which would check the factors of justice delayed.

As an immediate past Chief Justice, he could not resist talking on the things he knows, corruption.   He says, “Corruption is rampant in the lower courts particularly the primary courts.”  He cautioned both the public and the judicial officers to guard against buying and selling justice through bribery.  I could not agree more with the retired Chief Justice on these comments.   The new Constitution should pluck all these loopholes.  

These will nevertheless assist in unlocking our criminal justice system which right now is in a crisis. The crisis of backlog of pending cases, overcrowding of both police lock ups and prisons cells and above all the infringement of human rights of offenders would be tackled. I think now Judiciary is seriously putting its house in order.  By mere acknowledgment of corruption within their ranks is a positive sign of fighting against it.  

The backlog of pending cases is yet another problem plaguing the criminal justice system.  The most affected one is the Prisons Service which is the last cog in the criminal justice system chain. Much has been said, including the President himself on the overcrowding of prisons but nothing is in the offing.

Dispensing of justice in our country is very slow and cumbersome causing the horrendous overcrowding of prisons. I should have expected things to have changed after strengthening the judiciary with appointment of several judges yet people have to stay in custody for much longer while the dagger of dispensation of justice hangs over them for unspecified period. The increased prison population in this country started to show up more than thirty years ago with lip services doing the rounds while suspects spend so many days in prisons.  

The government in 1986 created a Task Force to probe into causes of the problem of overcrowding in prisons and recommended on policies and measures for its alleviation. A good number of causative circumstances for the problem were identified. Some of the old and new reasons included overgrowing prison population without corresponding of existing prison structures; delay in criminal investigations, the disposal of cases, existence of unnecessary rigid, bureaucratic and severe criminal laws such as the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, 1998 with a minimum sentence of 30 years imprisonment and also having an ineffective parole system or Prisoner’s Aftercare.

It needs political will and smart thinking to solve the overcrowding of prisons in this country. I am impressed that judiciary is showing the way.  The recent comment by Justice Ramadhani of introducing a provision in the constitution is the right move. The two top judicial officials, Chief Justice Othman Chande and Judge President Fakih Jundu have recently advocated the possible ways of solving this imbroglio of overcrowding of prisoners from both prisons and police cells as well as the piling of pending cases in the court rolls.  

They have vowed to make use of the Alternative to Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the Community Service Orders.  However this requires the Department of Community Service Orders to get ready for this influx.I salute the Judiciary for this move. Police as part of criminal justice system are just moving on the right way with their much known and well accepted the Police Jamii concept. Prisons as the recipient of the results of both judiciary and the police have a daunting task to fulfill. The prisons doors have always been very wide for everything to come in but very narrow for them to get out, hence you have the overcrowding.

We have to agree that imprisonment should just be used sparingly and not everybody should go to prison. We should not be an imprisonment-happy nation! Why shouldn’t we think of changing the law to allow time spent in remands to be inclusive in the sentence being served? Is it not appropriate now to have a new Prison National Policy which will emphasize on offender risk management strategies? Very unfortunately Prisons has been regarded as non-tertiary entity in the past.  The simplicity that was attached to the Department of Prisons and delay in putting into practice proposals to address the overcrowding problem in 1986 has put the Prison Service in such a quagmire.      

Corrections is incredibly important work — the kind of work that often makes a decisive difference in the lives of individuals and can have real positive impact in terms of the public safety interests of communities in our societies.  That is where I come   in total agreement with Justice Ramadhani that some provisions in the new Constitution should be included to address the inherent criminal justice system’s problems.  


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Author: Kiangiosekazi Wa-Nyoka

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